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June 13, 2011

Our Work for Animals Won’t Be Slowed by Smear Campaign

Rick Berman may be the most discredited person in the broad domain of American politics—but not because of any sexual escapades or misconduct, which have recently brought down a growing list of Republican and Democratic politicians. In Berman’s case, it’s due to his naked campaigns to undermine public health, animal welfare, and environmental protection.

Berman is a public relations operative who lives in a $3.5 million home in McLean, Va., and drives luxury automobiles to his office in downtown Washington, D.C. He’s made a mint taking money from tobacco companies, junk food companies, alcohol interests, agribusiness concerns, the tanning bed industry, and other corporate interests that are facing public criticisms over their practices. He makes his living defending and explaining away little things like hundreds of thousands of people dying from lung cancer or skin cancer, people killed by drunk drivers, individuals falling down dead from heart attacks because of widespread obesity, or billions of animals being confined in factory farms and millions of seals being clubbed to death for their fur. Surveying his father’s body of work, Berman’s own son said he’s a “despicable man” and “a sort of human molestor” [sic]. I think he understated it, but I see his point.

Tara Loller with The HSUS holds a kitten rescued from a massive Florida hoarding case
James Branaman
One of thousands of pets rescued by The HSUS this year.

For the past few years, Berman’s been running an advertising campaign against The HSUS. Our supporters have realized that we must be doing something right to spark the flow of millions of dollars from the backers of animal abuse into Berman’s coffers. We’ve won every ballot measure we’ve supported since he started, and we’ve piled up more victories than we can count. The only thing Berman has accomplished is inventing his own personal enrichment scheme, since 2008 tax records from one of his nonprofits show that 92 cents of every tax-exempt dollar raised went to Berman and his for-profit PR firm. As the New York Times reported in 2010, Berman’s syndicate of nonprofit front groups generates as much as 70 percent of his firm's revenues.

In addition to losing just about every fight with us, I’ve never seen the man get any good press, except stuff that he’s written about himself. CBS’s 60 Minutes labeled him Dr. Evil. Rachel Maddow essentially described him as a con man. And the editorial boards of The Washington Post, USA Today, and now the Los Angeles Times have called him out as a front for industry. In a Sunday editorial, which came after Berman placed two full-page ads in the Times against The HSUS, the Times editorial board called his claims “misleading” and said that he’s trying to drag animal shelters into his nefarious campaign.

Frankly, I am amazed that the food companies, tobacco companies, and animal-abuse industries pay this guy any money at all. They could not have a more tainted or flawed front man. Here’s a fellow that says that pregnant mothers shouldn’t worry about mercury in fish, that obesity and drunk driving concerns are overblown, and that any money donated to animal welfare should go only to dog and cat shelters and not to protect any other animals in crisis. No credible parties listen to him. And it’s ironic that while Berman wages his smear campaign against us, our staff across the country continue to care for animals at our sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers, rescue pets from cruelty and disasters, crack down on animal fighting, promote shelter pet adoption, improve conditions for farm animals, protect wildlife, and so much more. It’s that segment of our work that focuses on large-scale, institutional cruelty that Berman seizes as an economic opportunity for himself.

We know that our political opponents will spend money to defend animal cruelty and to fight us. That comes with the territory. Let’s just hope they keep giving such a large share of their ill-gotten gains to good old Rick. He’s the best, most ineffective, and most transparent opponent we could have.

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